Archive for May, 2013

Rectify: Haven’t Watched; You Should Fix That Mistake—Television

May 31, 2013

If you love character-driven stories and haven’t watched “Rectify,” you should start NOW.  Although “Rectify” just wound up its first season, you can still watch it via On Demand and several websites, including Sundance, and be ready when the second season begins (date yet to be determined). Rectify poster

What makes “Rectify” so special and unique? Story,writing and acting are the easy, but true answers. However, “Rectify” takes each one of these attributes to the enth degree and then some.

Set in a small town in Georgia,“Rectify” is about Daniel Holden, who as teenager went to prison, convicted for the rape and murder of his high school girlfriend. He sat on death row in solitary confinement for 19 years. We meet Daniel just as he is being released on a technicality, although not completely exonerated for the crime.

Aden Young as Daniel is a revelation. It would never have occurred to me to portray Daniel as he does, but his performance makes absolute sense and is sheer perfection. We’re told Daniel was a “little different” as a teenager, but not told what made that so. Whatever it was, nearly 20 years in solitary has only served to accentuate that “differentness.” The Daniel we and his family meet is a wide-eyed innocent who speaks slowly and softly. It’s simple to say that he’s a modern Rip Van Winkle come to life, but to some extent that is true. The world in general is completely changed…as well as his intimate, smaller world. His father is dead…his mother has remarried…he now has a step-brother and a much younger half-brother. Finally, his beloved younger sister has become a woman and his chief defender and protector. How would you—how would any of us cope with these developments?

Through some remarkable flashbacks to Daniel’s prison life, we learn his imprisonment was no walk in the park. Horrific doesn’t begin to describe what he went through. Thankfully, not all of those scenes are violent…some of the scenes with a fellow prisoner are heartbreakingly deep and poignant

Perhaps it’s the ying and yang of emotions, for us and for Daniel, that make “Rectify” so special. Is he guilty of the crime? We’re not really sure. Some of his town residents are welcoming, others are fearful or fear-inducing.  Daniel’s step-father believes Daniel is innocent while his step-brother does not.  We love how his sister stands up for him, but worry that her love will get them both in trouble.

Actor Ray McKinnon is “Rectify’s” brilliant creator. He has assembled a fantastic cast headed by Young, but every other character has just the right actor playing him or her. Especially terrific are J. Smith-Cameron as his mother, Abigail Spencer as Daniel’s sister Amantha, Clayne Crawford as Daniel’s step-brother, Ted Jr. and Adelaide Clemens as Ted Jr.’s wife, Tawney.

“Rectify,” with very little buzz or fanfare, is one of the best shows on television this year, or any year for that matter.  Get yourself to a television or computer screen and be prepared to be blown away.

4 nuggets out of 4

 

Advertisements

The Great Gatsby: Search for greatness almost does itself in—Movie

May 22, 2013

Somewhere beneath the glitz, glitter and sequins that is “The Great Gatsby,” lays a simple love story…a melodrama if you please, and this story has a star, and in no uncertain terms that star is Leonardo DiCaprio.  Baz Luhrmann, Gatsby’s director, does all he can to undermine his star by hurling at the screen every special effect from his arsenal of 3D effects he can and yet DiCaprio’s Gatsby somehow manages to survive and thrive.

Written by Luhrmann and Craig Pearce, based on F. Scott Fitzgerald’s novel, “Gatsby” is narrated by Nick Carraway (Tobey Maguire), a newly acquired friend of Jay Gatsby. Nick lives in a cottage next to the mysterious Gatsby’s palatial estate in new-money West Egg, Long Island, in the early 1920s. No one is exactly sure how Gatsby made his vast fortune and no one really cares. The “swells” are just happy to bask in his excess.The Great Gatsby

However, there is more to Gatsby than meets the eye. He’s deeply in love with Daisy Buchanan (Carey Mulligan), a woman he met before going overseas to fight during WWI. At the time he felt he wasn’t monetarily worthy of her and wanted to make his fortune before reuniting with her. Unfortunately she didn’t wait for him and instead married a brute of a man, Tom Buchanan (Joel Edgerton). Daisy is Nick’s cousin and she and Tom live in old-money East Egg, Long Island, and not so coincidentally estate is directly opposite Gatsby’s.

Gatsby’s whole reason for being is to sweep Daisy off her feet and take her away from Tom. It’s why he moved to West Egg and why he seeks out Nick’s friendship. He’s obsessed with her and therein lays the story.

Director Luhrmann was quoted saying as regards the use of 3D “…I know there’s gonna be noise, eyeball-rolling, a whole lot of easy cheap shots. Go for it, my friends. But the bottom line is, Fitzgerald wouldn’t have looked away from that new step, embracing that modern technique.”  Oh, sir, I beg to differ. While Fitzgerald might be intrigued by or approve 3D for movies like “Alice in Wonderland” or “Up,” I think he would be appalled at its use in a movie that to some extent is about feelings…emotions. 3D turns humans into characters in a snow globe. Rather than making them larger than life, it actually makes them more remote and removes any hint of intimacy. And when he’s not snow-globing people, he uses the 3D in other distracting manners.  Is it really necessary to thrust shirts into the audience’s face? I think not. The fantastic sets and beautifully designed fashions terrifically convey the excess that Luhrmann is seeking. They speak volumes for themselves.

Interestingly enough, exectutive producer Jay-Z’s contribution to the score doesn’t hurt the movie at all. The modern score actually works. You don’t walk out of the movie theatre humming the music, but it’s not the least distracting.

To his credit, Luhrmann has assembled a fabulous cast, all of whom do a terrific job. As mentioned earlier, DiCaprio is outstanding. When he smiles, he melts your heart. DiCaprio manages to generate anger and vulnerability in the same scene. (And it must be mentioned that he certainly knows how to wear a tank top–that might be the real distraction to his performance.) Carey Mulligan is very convincing as the object of Gatsby’s affections. Her ambivalence about her feelings seems very real. Tobey Maguire gives one of his best performances. For once his wide-eyed innocence works in his favor. Joel Edgerton, normally cast as a good guy or at least someone you can warm up to makes for a terrific villain. Jason Clarke, Isla Fisher and Elizabeth Debicki also have great turns in supporting roles.

When all is said and done, the actors make “The Great Gatsby” worth seeing. But see it without the 3D. You’ll save money and have a more enjoyable experience at the same time.

2 ¾ nuggets out of 4

 

Mud: So Much Good Beneath the Surface—Movie

May 13, 2013

Something has happened to Matthew McConaughey and it’s all good. He’s making great acting choices in small movies and the results are stunning performances. Beginning in 2012 with “Magic Mike” and “Bernie,” this terrific streak continues into 2013 with “Mud.”Mud poster

Written and directed by Jeff Nichols, “Mud” takes place on the Arkansas waterfront—the banks of the Mississippi—in DeWitt, Arkansas. Two young teens and best friends, Ellis (Tye Sheridan) and Neckbone (Jacob Lofland ) have discovered a boat washed ashore…it’s actually hung up on a tree. While trying to dislodge the boat and take it for themselves, they encounter Mud (McConaughey), a disheveled mess of a man. Of the two boys, Ellis is the more romantic, and is intrigued by Mud, while Neckbone is more wary. However, both of them eventually agree to let Mud keep the boat and provide him with provisions on the sly. Over time, their help becomes less about food and more about friendship and thus increasingly dangerous…to them and Mud.

“Mud” is highly entertaining on so many levels. The story takes place in an area  we don’t often see and many viewers, including myself, don’t know much about. I had no idea that so many people lived in ramshackle houseboats as Ellis’. That aspect of the film is fascinating. One sidenote—these two boys might actually be the only boys in the United States who don’t use cell phones or computers. Never once do they make an appearance and it’s refreshing.

Absolutely fantastic acting is displayed throughout “Mud.” McConaughey seamlessly infuses his character with smarts, eloquence, fragility and sympathy. He is simply amazing. Matching him step for step is Tye Sheridan. Watching him become a man is performance to behold. Not far behind is Jacob Lofland. It will be fun to see what the future holds for these two young actors.

If ever a movie screams best ensemble cast, it is” Mud.” The supporting cast is second to none–Sam Shepard as Mud’s long-time friend; Reese Witherspoon as Mud’s girlfriend on the run; Sarah Paulson and Ray McKinnon as Ellis’ parents—all are just brilliant. After a long absence from the screen, Joe Don Baker makes a great return as a man from Mud’s past who wants him dead.

At first blush, Mud seems like a coming of age story…for Ellis and Neckbone. But it is more than that. It’s also the story of Mud’s coming of age and with it is Mathew McConaughey’s coming of age as an actor, too.

4 nuggets out of 4

 

 


%d bloggers like this: